the heart, a favorite symbol of mine
Watching the unfolding 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic is breaking my heart and testing my mindfulness practice, so today I thought I would write about compassion and my shorthand symbol for compassion: the heart.
The heart is a frequent image in my drawings. I like it on its own or how it can combine with more hearts to create different things, a butterfly for instance. Like life, the heart is a simple symbol but it can also be complex.
I also like how as a symbol the heart crosses cultures, and I sense it’s a wise, mature symbol with lessons to teach us, if we can learn to listen. Perhaps the heart is not as old as other symbols like the cross or the star, but it’s older and wiser than the smiley face or the peace sign.
The ones I draw are often green to remind me of our connection to nature and to trigger affirmative and bold actions to love and extend compassion to myself and others in the face of discomfort, dislike, disgust or disagreement.
I think of green as a color of balance as it sits in the middle of the color spectrum.
And fittingly, true love, (meaning steadfast, deep love rather than some shallow projection of our needs or desires) is also symbolized by the heart. Love is a constant that can weather changes and persist across the emotional spectrum, running from the extremes of anger and hatred and all there is in between to joy and happiness.
Think about it – when we truly love we can hold rapid and ranging emotional changes. I can be angry at someone and still love them. I can be extremely sad and disappointed in them but still love and appreciate them. Real love never wavers and is long-lasting, even beyond death. Adding acceptance to love and compassion essentially creates an invisible super power available to everyone and has the potential to transform our world.
The heart also serves to remind me of the connection of all things, my relationship with myself, others and the Earth, as well as growth, hope and renewal.
This health crisis is provoking many different feelings and responses from people around the globe as well as spreading suffering, sadness and death. I think a lot and hold in my heart people who can’t be with loved ones who are sick or worse.
And then there’s people and their extended family who are just fine health-wise and ensconced at home with adequate food and creature comforts, but coming to grips with a new way of living. I imagine it is especially challenging for parents with school-age children who are now juggling working from home, or not working and the financial worries that provokes, while supporting kids’ learning and tending to family and the home.
Then there are all sorts of situations in between and beyond: so many people, too many, facing this crisis without any access to clean water or any kind of clinic or health care workers. It is horrorific yet I wonder is there some kind of hope to be found in the fact that we are united in this crisis and all learning to cope with the uncertainty of the situation.
When it is over, will we have all truly learned that we are interconnected and that our collective well-being is bound up together? Yours, mine, our neighbors next door and across the globe? Will we unite to pressure policy-makers to renew and strengthen the social contract? For the last 50 years, so-called structural adjustment programs (first implemented in Mexico in the 1970s) have spread across the globe. Here in Europe they have been called austerity or the cuts and over the last decade or so they have gutted our public health system, making it so much harder and dangerous for health care workers to deal with this pandemic.
These are terrible times, but I hope all this violence will not simply create more violence. When things have calmed down and we have regained our focus, let us organize to convince our politicians to put people before profits. It is a key moment. Many of them are getting sick too and perhaps their first-hand experience will lead to a change of heart. And let us hold accountable big corporations that don’t pay taxes and that are profitting from this crisis. The A to Z list of these corporations begins with the likes of Amazon, which I know their products and home deliveries are probably (and ironically) saving some people lives, but it’s a twisted situation. Corporations too should pay their fair share of taxes.
Meanwhile I hold my worries at bay with meditation, look for joy here and there, practice gratitude and make art – writing, drawing, playing clown, cooking – every day.
Here is compassion rabbit, the result of my daily creative practice which I do 15-20 minutes a day every day, and longer if I can. Compassion rabbit is to remind me to celebrate every moment, that being alive is a gift and while there are lots of things I may not be getting done (articles half-finished or unstarted, project reports stuck somewhere between the keyboard and my mind), it’s OK. It is a stressful and emotional time for all. I am getting done what needs doing. Sometimes that is a phone call or playing with the dog who is stir-crazy and suffering this confinement more than me.
So that’s it for now. I wish you well, I hope you are safe and comfortable at home.
Remember to wash your hands, look after yourself and your loved ones. Equally important: love and compassion for yourself and others, and rest up and prepare yourself as best you can.
Soon (rather than later, let’s hope) we will need all of our energies to take collective social action and change this narrative so it does not happen again. At least not exactly like this, or even worse.
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